Written by Lola Boddington Rees
Christian Dior once said that you should not “buy much but make sure that what you buy is good”. But if like me buying a reformation dress isn’t an option; how can you be sustainable when you don’t have much money to spend? Full disclosure, this article won’t list lots of sustainable brands because I hope it becomes clear that to be a sustainable student, buying clothes should be your last resort. I recently came across an article about a woman who wore the same dress for 100 days. Whilst it is a very effective way to close the door on fast fashion, it’s a tad extreme so instead this is a whistle-stop tour through affordable sustainable fashion with a series of questions to ask yourself about your wardrobe.
- Where do my clothes come from?
The first thing I’d recommend doing is really ask yourself where your clothes come from? How often do you look at the clothes you are wearing and wonder where it was made? What are your clothes made out of? And, really importantly, who made your clothes? And in what conditions do they have to work? For how much money? Being sustainable is not just about the environmental costs, but also the human impact too. There are accessible and informative resources available for you to learn more. For me, watching The True Cost at school opened my eyes to the fast fashion industry, human rights violations and the destructive environmental impacts. But there are countless other documentaries to also watch, such as Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts, which brought Stacey Dooley to fame. There are also plenty of books to read too, such as ‘Fashionopolis’, a book I was leant by Tabby. Before even contemplating buying anything, do some research about the industry. I recently learnt that the UN considers the fashion industry to be the second most polluting industry in the world. How much do you know?
- What clothes do I own?
Before thinking about owning anymore clothes, surely, it’s a good idea to know what you’ve already got? Now this might sound really, really boring but getting all your clothes, shoes and other accessories out together will help you realise exactly what you own. The most sustainable and radical thing you can do is wear what you already have, so it’s a good next step to take a look at your wardrobe…You may even discover items you’d completely forgotten about… I’m inspired by Venetia La Manna adding an ‘o’ to the hashtag OOTD to change it to ‘Old Outfit of The Day’. I’ve often read that we only wear 20% of our clothes, so I’d recommend spending a bit of time really looking at what’s already there. By wearing what you already own and looking after them properly, your clothes will last longer, and you won’t need to buy new ones.
- How do I mend the clothes I own?
Are there clothes that you don’t wear anymore because they are out of fashion, don’t really fit anymore or not really sure why you ever bought it in the first place? I have clothes with buttons missing, hems falling down, jeans with worn out holes and plenty of socks that need darning. The energy you would have spent on going out to buy a new pair, learn how to fix them or if you think drastic measures are needed, upcycle it. There are plenty of tutorials online, and it’s a great way to learn a new skill - over Christmas, my mum taught me how to knit using thread made out of old t-shirts! Turn your upcycles into a creative project like an old housemate of mine who upcycled old jeans by painting funky patterns onto them. For bigger projects, you could use Re_considered’s upcycling service or try the new app Sojo, which helps you find places locally for clothes alterations and repairs.
- Can I borrow instead of buy?
There’s a great film I watched as a kid called the sisterhood of the travelling pants (nostalgic lockdown viewing), where a group of friends passed around a pair of jeans over a summer. Now I’m not necessarily saying you should send your trousers around the world, but it’s making a valid point. We already have enough clothes, but I understand that we still like wearing something new. Since living in a house with four other students, I’ve enjoyed being able to walk into my housemates’ rooms and raid their wardrobes. Quite often a housemate won’t know where their jumper is, and spot on Instagram that another housemate has borrowed it. Sometimes we need to feel like we have a new outfit (new clothes, new me?) but that doesn’t mean any money should be changed hands in the process. Trade clothes with friends or have a look at a new app called Isthmus, which has been created to help you swap clothes hassle free in community groups.
- But I still want to buy clothes?
But you may still need to buy something, what then? If you do need, or want, to buy clothes, try to shop second-hand at places like charity shops, vintage markets or on eBay and depop. And, if you do want to buy new clothes, there are amazing sustainable brands out there, like re_considered and other small brands on Etsy. When thinking about buying clothes somewhere, I’d recommend using the Good on You website, which rates fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Something else to think about before you buy something is to use the 30 rule. If you don’t think you’ll wear it more than 30 times, don’t buy it.